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Buster Keaton in “The Haunted House”

Of the five Buster Keaton two-reelers I’ve watched this week, “The Haunted House” is certainly the most ambitious in terms of narrative. Buster is an honest, if hapless, bank teller who is falsely accused for a bank robbery/counterfeiting scheme. Joe Roberts, also a bank teller, is the ring leader of the counterfeiters and has rigged a house to appear haunted to throw of the police. “The Haunted House” features more plot points and more ancillary characters than all of the other four shorts combined. Maybe a few too many and”The Haunted House” breaks down into two separate segments that don’t have a lot to do with one another. But it is full of inventive sight gags, amazing Keaton acrobatics, and that staircase. Read the rest of this entry

Buster Keaton in “Neighbors”

Buster Keaton - Joe Roberts - Neighbors - Pretty Clever FilmsBuster “Neighbors” is Romeo & Juliet set in a tenement courtyard. Buster plays The Boy, in love with The Girl (played by Virgina Fox), who lives just behind the back fence. Not surprisingly, The Boy’s and The Girl’s fathers, Joe Keaton and Joe Roberts respectively, are none too pleased. But love will always find a way and hilarity ensues. “Neighbors” is a small story, played out on a pretty small stage, and it is way more fun to watch than to read about.

The chief attraction of “Neighbors” is Buster Keaton’s dazzling acrobatics, on display much more fully in this short than in his previous ones. On first viewing, I thought Keaton had moved away from the mechanical brilliance demonstrated by the dinner scene in “The Scarecrow.” Then I learned that the abutting tenement buildings and courtyards were custom designed by Keaton to maximize the acrobatic effects. He zip lines across clothes lines, attaches a spanking device to the swinging door in the fence, and flies in out of windows. There is nothing more visually funny, in my opinion at least, than Buster Keaton hurtling in and out of a window. I have to stop typing right now, so I can chuckle at the memory. Read the rest of this entry

Buster Keaton in “Convict 13”

Buster Keaton as Convict 13 - Pretty Clever FilmsI hesitate to say it, oh I am loathe to say it, but… I don’t love “Convict 13”. For his second Comique Film Corp. release, Keaton reverts to standard, well trodden slapstick tropes. It’s not a terrible film, but it misuses his talents and does not display much of the film making bravura that we know Keaton possesses.

In “Convict 13” our erstwhile hero finds himself assaulted by an escaped convict and wakes up wearing the cons prison stripes. Unfortunately for Buster, Convict 13 was scheduled to be hung that day. He escapes this fate with help from the Warden’s daughter, and, learning from experience, manages to switch his prison garb for a guard’s uniform. Read the rest of this entry

Buster Keaton in “One Week”

It’s difficult to watch these early Buster Keaton films without applying hindsight. Pretty much the only lens I can view them through is the one colored by what I know (and love) about Keaton’s later feature film work. I’ll start my week of Buster Keaton reviews by saying, yes, the films are funny. They often border on the very slapstick, Keystone kind of funny, but they are funny. Be forewarned though. I’m reading these early Keaton shorts like reading tea leaves, trying to catch glimpses of the great Silent Clown that I know Keaton becomes.

From that angle, the very title of this short is cause for alarm. We know “One Week” is a long time and a lot of opportunity for things to go sideways in Buster’s world. The film begins with Buster leaving the church just after marrying The Bride (played by Sybil Seely). What should be a happy occasion is somewhat marred by the presence of The Bride’s former suitor, Handy Hank, seething just outside. Fortunately for their nuptial bliss, a very generous Uncle Mike has gifted the young couple with a house and a lot. Read the rest of this entry

5 Buster Keaton Shorts

Buster KeatonJust because Buster Keaton week was so fun, and because these shorts are perfect for a dog-day summer afternoon, I’m bumping this post back to the top. Viva la Buster!

Keaton began his movie career working in a series of comic shorts with the then popular Fatty Arbuckle. (Isn’t it funny just thinking about the two of them standing side by side?) Starting in 1920, after the scandal that ruined Arbuckle’s career, Buster made a series of short films for the Comique Film Corporation. Buster co-directed and co-wrote these films (usually along with Eddie Cline). Taking a look at this series of shorts, we can see a nascent Buster Keaton, not quite in the full flower of the talents that will be demonstrated in his later feature films, but getting there. To read my reviews and watch the 5 Keaton short, just follow the links!

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